To the little girl who was afraid of the sea

When you were six, you hardly ever spoke. When in the company of strangers, you would hide behind my back and hold on to my shirt. When you were eleven we went to the sea and you were scared of how the waves splashed against the shore. You were terrified of the sound and smell of the water. You held on to my hand and refused to go anywhere near the it.

When you were five, we went on our first flight together. You were so shy that whenever any passer by tried to talk to you, you would squeeze my hand in a death grip. The nights they fought, we would lie close together on the bed holding each other while we shed tears.

Now you have grown up and I know are a strong independent woman. You were always the brains of the family and you always tried to do good by everyone. You are my little over achiever who aims to please. But amidst the world of thick books and medals, I hope you don’t leave your childhood behind.

Don’t make the same mistake I made at your age. Do not aim to please. Enjoy the sunshine after sleepless nights of hanging out with friends; enjoy the hangovers and the love pangs; enjoy the school dramas and the world of movies. Get your fill of sleep because after eighteen, you can bid goodbye to that. Get your fill of your family because people grow old and apart with age. Explore territories that you haven’t before. Fail once, fail twice and fail again because failure is a better teacher than success.

Dream a dream and then change that dream the next day because now is when the possibilities are most. Fall in love and realise the difference between love and infatuation. Get a job at McDonalds and understand that there is a lot of value in the smile of the boy who is given a happy meal by his father.

Join a cause and fight for it because if not now, when? When they ask you, “what do you want to be?” tell them that you want to be happy. When they ask which university, tell them the name of all possible ones because there is no end to learning.

Learn that experience is more valued than mugging up facts and that you can always change what you want. There is always a new dawn after a bad day.

Dear kid, don’t be sorry for not knowing what you want to do and for wanting something no one wants to give. It is okay. You will fail. You must fail. But you will come out of it shining, just like the time you boarded the plane on your own and made friends with the other passengers.

If a shy little kid could become a confident woman, there is nothing in this world you can’t do. I wish you knew how proud I was of you and I wish I could be the one you had your first smoke with and told all your secrets to.

But alas! It is what it is. All I know for a fact is that I will always watch over you even if it is from behind a screen.

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Tuntuni pakhi and jet sprays

My favourite dress was a hand me down from my sister. It was sleeveless and had blue cars drawn on it. I could sit any way I wanted wearing it (not that I would have followed any propriety as a child) and there would be air coming in through all sides.

One of my many nannies was a young girl named Sonia. She was only one feet taller than me and wore her hair in a high pony that resembled a palm tree. She used to take me out to the lake in front of my house and we would throw stones into the water. Hers would always go farther than mine.

Kanta Singh owned a lot of bulls. His hut was a short walk from home. He was quite fond of me and would let me get on his bulls. They didn’t seem to mind either. Quite on the contrary, one of them (named Kalu) licked me across the face once.

I never liked Barbies much. The only thing they seemed to be fit for was to be chewed on. My first act of violence would be to cut their hair, then remove their clothes and head simultaneously. Then, I would spend a good half of my afternoons lying in bed, chewing their limbs till you could make out the fingers from the hand no more.

Dadan was my favourite white haired adult. He used to take me on his lap and feed me rice while my eyes remained stuck to the TV screen. It was Sunday and Tintin was chasing some bad guy across a little island.

Ma had to always run behind me to get my homework done. Being the defiant kid that I was, I had once shoved an eraser into my right ear so deep that the doctor had to jet spray my left ear.

I could never get the tables right. Why did five have to multiply with five at all? I didn’t see any use.

Baba would put me to sleep by running his hands through my hair. He would sing the same song every time. That was oddly comforting. Ma would come next and tell me the story of Tuntuni pakhi. Everyday.

Once I got hit on by a cricket ball because I had dared to play with the boys. Never again did I go near another.

Between the once and the now, many years have passed; years I don’t really remember. Some I choose to forget too. But today when I woke up and looked at myself in the mirror, I wondered when was the time I started taking my own decisions and deciding what to wear to school myself?

The answer left me feeling lost!

ABC- The Absurd Bengali ‘Cyndrome’

I was born in the late 20th century and to be true to myself, am still stuck somewhere there. Bengal of the 1990s is perhaps very close to the Bengal of 2015. A Bengali joint family is dominated by absurdity. A kid born to one of those households, to which I refer, has to go through certain stages of initiation to be allowed in the inner circle of adults. These toddlers need to be proficient in the arts, music- both vocals and instrumental, dance and academics, of course.

When people ask me about my childhood, I recall my days as a kid in a joint family in north Kolkata. My day would start at 7 am with two slices of bread, eggs, fruits and milk. Shortly after, I would be packed off to school. Back in those days, the concept of carpooling and riding a school bus had not come into being in my part of the city. Hence, reaching school was an adventure in itself- a cycle rickshaw to the bus stop, a bus to the metro station, the metro, another rickshaw and finally, school. I was invariably late every day because I fussed about going to school till about the age of 10. After a lot of crying on my part and a lot of threats from the other side, I would walk into school with a red face brimming with tears.

My school was one of the most reputed and strictest schools in the city- South Point. It had a daunting make- one that looked a lot like Principal Nolan of the ‘Dead Poet’s Society’. It was stuck in the Victorian eras where the staff carried around long wooden canes to be used on the students. I was one of those unfortunate kids that got whacked on a daily basis for a variety of reasons ranging from not completing my homework to talking to a fellow bench-mate.

School would end at 1 pm when I would be brought home and granted a few hours of rest post-lunch. One needs to understand that a characteristic feature of Bengalis is that these boastful creatures need to sleep for a couple of hours after lunch in order to rejuvenate their already superior grey cells. Evening was the time my real education began—Bharatnatyam classes followed by Hindustani classical training followed by art class. I was not particularly good at any of these. There have been instances when I stepped on a classmate’s foot while dancing. Another time, my guru had to physically shut my mouth because I went really off-scale on a spur of inspiration. Coming back home, I would get my ‘jol khabar’ which is the third meal in a Bengali’s day. Yes, they eat 4 times a day.

This was not the end of my traumatic day though. The second last part of the day was sitting to study at a round table with my siblings supervised by an adult, usually a granny. You would be lucky to have your elderly grandmothers sit beside you, as compared to the mother or the aunt. They were kinder and much more benevolent. After about two hours of sharpening the grey cells, dinner would be served and we were allowed exactly half hour, by the clock, of television per day. Bengalis are sticklers for time within domestic boundaries only. TV watching was also a supervised affair. Once I remember having flipped to FTV and my aunt caught me in the act of admiring the models. The lecture that followed made me feel ashamed of myself and made me want to bury myself in the ground.

Such were my days as a kid in the city of joy. I used to want to escape the mundane life back then. But now that I look back on those days, I wish to go back and set things right. I wish I had paid more attention in those dance classes and corrected my staccatos in those vocal classes. If it were not for those forced classes, I would never know the charms of the arts and never be able to appreciate the freedom of flipping TV channels without anyone breathing down my neck.

Such is the absurd race of Bangalis. These people are so full of themselves that they will burst someday in the not-so-near future. Yet, you perhaps cannot find a race which is more balanced like theirs. These fish eating, Rabindra Sangeet lovers might have odd ways and loud voices- such loud that one cannot take a dump without the next door neighbor knowing- but at the end of the day, they too are harmless creatures trying to prepare their next generation to face a cruel world. For that oddity and strictness, I am, oddly enough, grateful.